Tag Archives: Babe Ruth

Bloomington-born Wolf brings 1932 back to life with ‘The Called Shot’

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Thomas Wolf knew he wanted to write about the compassionate prison warden who took an inmate serving a life sentence to the World Series.

It became so much more.

Charlie Ireland took charge at Anamosa (Iowa) Men’s Reformatory and soon bonded over baseball and the Chicago Cubs with convicted murderer Harry “Snap” Hortman. The warden made a promise that if the Cubs made it to the Series, Ireland and Hortman would attend games at Wrigley Field

That pledge was kept and they, Charles Ireland (the warden’s son) and inmate Shorty Wakefield were there to see the Cubs take on the New York Yankees in Games 3 and 4 on Oct. 1 and 2 in 1932.

In the fifth inning of Game 3, Babe Ruth ripped the fifth pitch from Charlie Root for a home run. Many of said that the Bambino predicted the blast and pointed to where he would deposit it.

Wolf’s book, “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (Nebraska Press, 2020),” covers that the many events swirling around that fabled clout.

“1932 was such a fascinating year,” says Wolf. “It was a pretty pivotal year in American history.”

On the diamond, there was Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the powerful Yankees, Philadephia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx belting 58 home runs and a tight pennant race in the National League.

The 1932 World Series was Ruth’s last. That year was also the final time he hit 40 or more home runs and or drove in 130 or more runs in a season.

The Babe had a rather un-Ruthian 1925 campaign, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 98 games.

“People were writing him off, saying he was past his prime,” says Wolf. “But he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”

From 1926 through 1932, Ruth hit .353 with 343 homers and drove in 1,070 runs. In 1927, his slash line was .356/60/165.

The Cubs ended up taking the NL flag even though manager Rogers Hornsby was fired after 99 games and replaced by Charlie Grimm. Hornsby was at the end of his playing days and had many legal problems, some related to his gambling habits.

“The Rajah,” who hit .358 from 1915-37 with three .400 seasons (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925), was known to be a prickly character.

“He did not get along well with other players, managers or management,” says Wolf of Hornsby, who was not voted a World Series share by the ’32 Cubs.

Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by his girlfriend/showgirl Violet Popovich at the Hotel Carlos on Sheffield Avenue near Wrigley and recovered in time to help Chicago down the stretch.

The Jurges story is likely an inspiration for the 1951 novel, “The Natural” by Bernard Malamude. The movie adaptation stars Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs.

Former player and AL umpire George Moriarty was suspended for a fight with the Chicago White Sox.

After making one big league appearance in 1930, colorful right-hander Dizzy Dean had a breakout year in 1932, winning 18 games for St. Louis Cardinals.

Guy Bush, Kiki Cuyler, Woody English, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Mark Koenig, Pat Malone and Lon Warneke were among the other key performers for the 1932 Cubs.

The 1932 Yankees, managed by former Cubs skipper Joe McCarthy, also had Sammy Byrd, Ben Chapman, Earle Combs, Frank Crosetti, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Tony Lazzeri, Red Ruffing and Joe Sewell.

Away from baseball, 1932 was a presidential election year. Both the Democrat and Republican nominating conventions were held in Chicago thanks to mayor Anton Cermak

With the Great Depression swirling and World War I veterans staging a Bonus March and then camping out in Washington D.C., Franklin D. Roosevelt would replace Herbert Hoover in the White House. FDR was in attendance at Game 3 of the World Series. 

So was baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis with nephews Charlie and Lincoln Landis from Logansport, Ind., and entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Prohibition was on its way to be repealed in 1933.

Wolf weaves these and other details together in “The Called Shot.”

“It was fascinating to research the ’32 season and challenging to put all the stories together for the book,” says Wolf. “I wanted to tie in the world outside of baseball since 1932 was such an important year in the nation’s history — again, the research was eye-opening for me, and I learned a lot.

“I suppose that’s true for everyone who writes non-fiction — the research exposes us to facts and characters and perceptions about events that we only vaguely knew — in my case, for example, the history of the Bonus Army.”

Wolf enjoyed studying what it was like for ballplayers in the 1930’s. They spent many hours on trains, playing cards and talking baseball. Old players mentored new ones.

In that era, there were eight teams in each league with St. Louis being the farthest point west or south. Likely for monetary reasons, road trips would take weeks. For instance, the Cubs might play games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Cincinnati before coming back to Chicago.

As the Yankees travel from New York to Chicago during the World Series, they made a stop in Elkhart, Ind., to change engines.

“Fifty youngsters charged onto the train and searched for ballplayers,” wrote Wolf in “The Called Shot.” “They found Babe Ruth and mobbed him. Ruth and other players signed autographs for their young fans, and then the youths were shooed from the train.”

The routine and relationships between the press and the ballplayers were different in those days.

Wolf notes that today’s athletes will talk to reporters after a game and then tend to their social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter etc.

“Every player is his own brand,” says Wolf. “They’re in their own world with their own followers.”

Wolf says he first began taking notes for what would become “The Called Shot” around 2000, began the writing process around 2013. 

He began talking to literary agent Stacey Glick in 2007, began working on a book proposal after that and got contract with the University of Nebraska Press around 2013. He turned the manuscript over to UNP early in 2019 then did the bibliography and end notes. 

“It was about a six-year process,” says Wolf.

The book came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not easy with book stores being closed, book festivals being canceled and newspapers doing less reviews on baseball books.

With the help of Adam Rifenberick of Press Box Publicity, Wolf did about 40 podcasts and radio interviews to promote the book in June and July. He has been on Baseball by the Book Podcast with Justin McGuire (Episode 258) and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schapp (ESPN).

Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1947, Thomas Wolf is the son of Irvin and Jeanette “Jan” Wolf, who met at Indiana University. Irvin was born and raised in Wabash, Ind., attended Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and then got a doctorate in psychology at IU. 

Irvin Wolf was a college professor. He was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill when Thomas was 1 to 7. From second grade through high school, his father taught at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Irvin’s brother, Jack, attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and lived most of his life after college in New York City.

Eugene “Gene” Wolf, grandfather of Thomas and father to Irvin and Jack, moved to Wabash from Germany and was a partner in the Beitman & Wolf department store and married to Rachel Simon Wolf. The Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio and Gene Wolf became a big fan. He would travel to see games in Chicago.

The ’32 Series was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS and NBC.

Thomas Wolf has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College Galesburg, Ill., and a master’s in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa.

Wolf taught at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, UNC Chapel Hill and Santa Clara (Calif.) University and was a testing specialist and writing consultant before focusing on writing projects.

Patricia Bryan, Wolf’s wife, is a professor at the UNC School of Law and has been teaching at the university since 1982. She was a visiting professor at her alma mater — the University of Iowa — when she and her husband toured the prison grounds at Anamosa. 

Bryan and Wolf co-authored “Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland (University of Iowa Press, 2007).”

Wolf has produced several articles (many in conjunction with Bryan), including “The Warden Takes a Murderer to the World Series: A Tale of Depression-era Compassion,” “On the Brink: Babe Ruth in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day,” “The Golden Era of Prison Baseball and the Revenge of Casey Coburn” and “Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball.”

There are plans to write another true crime book set in Iowa.

Wolf has been a regular attendee of the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture and is a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) member. He says he tapped into the SABR Baseball Biography Project for background on many subjects and Retrosheet for game details in “The Called Shot.”

Thomas Wolf and Patricia Bryan have three sons — John and twins David and Mike. John Wolf (29) is a dog trainer living in North Carolina. David Wolf (27) works in the public relations department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Wolf (27) is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Thomas Wolf, who was born in Bloomington, Ind., is the author of the book, “The Called Shot: Babe Ruth, The Chicago Cubs, & The Unforgettable Major League Baseball Season of 1932 (Nebraska Press, 2020).”

Cy Young, 1980 Phillies latest in author Freedman’s long list of books

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Prolific author Lew Freedman has had two titles released during the summer of 2020.

The common thread is baseball. The subjects and the way he researched the books are very different.

“Phillies 1980!: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Philadelphia’s First World Series Championship (Sports Publishing)” came out in June and “Cy Young: The Baseball Life and Career (McFarland Books)” hit the market in August.

Freedman, a newspaperman for 50 years living in Columbus, Ind., serving as sports editor of the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune, has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past three decades — about 60 on sports with two-thirds of them being on baseball. 

He lived the Phillies story as a Philadelphia Inquirer staffer in 1980 assigned to write the sidebar on World Series MVP and future Hall of Famer Schmidt. The journalist was able to draw from what he witnessed at the time plus research. Philadelphia topped the Kansas City Royals in six games as Schmidt hit .381 (8-of-21) with two home runs, seven runs batted in and six runs score. 

The seed that grew into the Cy Young book was decades in the making.

“I had it in my head for years and years and years — almost 30 years,” says Freedman. “I was getting more and more interested in baseball history.”

Even though he was serving as sports editor at the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News at the time, Freedman made a trip to the research library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and gathered information on the man with 511 career pitching victories — far more than anyone in big league annals and wrote a column about Denton True Young — first known as Cyclone for clobbering a wooden fence with his pitches and then Cy.

“Nobody will ever come close,” says Freedman of durable right-hander Young’s win total. “There have been some Cy Young books, but not a lot. 

“This is the first time in 20 years there’s been a new look at Cy Young.”

With the advantage of being a better writer and researcher since writing “Dangerous Steps: Vernon Tejas And The Solo Winter Ascent Of Mount McMcKinley (Stackpole Books)” in 1990, Freedman went head-long into more Young research.

“(Cy Young is an) old story, but he never gets old,” says Freedman. “I wanted to get Cy Young’s voice as much as possible and get into what kind of guy he was.

“He was not a controversial guy. He did not get into trouble. He didn’t keep late hours. He didn’t party.”

Except for his time on a baseball field, Young spent his time as a farmer in northeast Ohio. 

Since Young’s 22-year-old career spans from 1890 to 1911, finding the pitcher’s voice was not easy.

“When Cy Young was playing sportswriters did not go to the locker room right after the game and get quotes,” says Freedman. The scribes were focused on getting play-by-play details into their stories and then meeting deadlines and often racing for the train station for the team’s next game. “Contemporaneous reports are missing.”

Luckily for Freedman and other baseball researchers, Young lived to be 88 and shared his thoughts freely for decades after the end of his career.

“His brains were picked about his highlights,” says Freedman. “That stuff was golden material for a guy like me.”

Young spent much of his Hall of Fame career with two primary catchers — Chief Zimmer and Lou Criger. The latter is an Elkhart, Ind., native who was with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston from 1896 to 1908.

The Cy Young Award was first presented to the top pitcher in Major League Baseball in 1956 in honor of a man who not only won 94 more games than the second man on the list (Hall of Famer Walter Johnson), but tossed an astounding 7,356 innings with 29,565 batters faced and 749 complete games. Both the American and National leagues have handed out the Cy Young Award since 1967.

“I love baseball history,” says Freedman. “I learn something all the time when I do the research.

“I was very happy when I held the Cy Young book in my hand.”

Freedman’s newspaper career started when he was in high school in the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass.

He was with the Inquirer when an Alaskan vacation turned into 17 years as a sports editor there. He later was on the staff at the Chicago Tribune and Florida Times-Union and was sports editor at The Republic in Columbus, Ind. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.

Along the way, Freedman kept researching and writing books. There are many related to Alaska, even one that ties baseball to the remote 49th state.

One of his early baseball works is “Hard-Luck Harvey Haddix and the Greatest Game Ever Lost (McFarland Books).” The book chronicles the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 only to lose the perfecto, no-hitter and the game in the 13th.

In recent years, Freedman has seen the publishing of “Red Sox Legends: Pivotal Moments, Players & Personalities (Blue River Press)” in 2019, “Warren Spahn: A Biography of the Legendary Lefty (Sports Publishing)” in 2018 and “Connie Mack’s First Dynasty: The Philadelphia Athletics, 1910-1914 (McFarland Books)” in 2017.

Freedman, who has been featured multiple times on the Baseball by the Book Podcast hosted by Jeremy McGuire, has also contributed books on the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians‘, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees and more.

“Once I moved to Chicago, it was easier to write sports books,” says Freedman, who has created many titles on the Chicago Bears. He’s also written about basketball, hockey, auto racing, boxing, pro wrestling and even competitive lumber-jacking.

“As long as I can come up with a great topic in my mind and (a book publisher) also thinks it’s a good idea,” says Freedman.

When his books come out is not entirely up to Freedman. Done and awaiting editor’s approval is a something tentatively called “1930: When Everybody Was Babe Ruth.”

To Freedman, 1930 was the “Year of the Hitter” the way 1968 is referred to as the “Year of the Pitcher.”

“Hitting went crazy and pitching was atrocious,” says Freedman. “That year the seams were raised on the ball. Pitchers could not control it. (Hitters) had the years of their lives.

“After that, they changed the rules so it didn’t happen again.”

Lefty-swinging outfielder George “Showboat” Fisher played four major league seasons — hitting .261 in 1923, .220 in 1924 and .182 in 1931. His 1930 mark was .374 as a reserve for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Fisher lived to 95.

“He got to talk about (the 1930 season) for the rest of his life,” says Freedman, who notes that ’30 was the year of the National League’s last .400 hitter (Hall of Fame first baseman Bill Terry of the New York Giants at .401).

All eight position players in the St. Louis Cardinals regular starting lineup hit .300, including outfielder George Watkins at .373. 

It was hoped that the Phillies book would come out as part of a 40th-year anniversary and a celebration was planned during spring training in Clearwater, Fla.

Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and that changed everything about 2020. 

On March 16, Freedman was on his way home from a western trip to cover rodeo (he once spent three months in Wyoming researching a book on rodeo). He literally had businesses shutting down behind him as he drove back toward southern Indiana. 

One day he ate in a restaurant, the next day they were putting chairs on top of tables at a truck stop.

More recently, Freedman has been able to cover high school football for his paper and has been contemplating his next baseball book project.

First baseman Johnny Mize was a star for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and New York Yankees in the late 1930’s through early 1950’s.

“He’s been under-covered,” says Freedman of the Hall of Fame. 

He’s a Hall of Famer. “He was overshadowed with the Yankees (teammates included Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto plus Hank Bauer and Billy Martin). “He was a tremendous player.”

Lew Freedman has authored or co-authored around 110 books since 1990. Around 60 of those titles have been on sports. The 50-year newspaperman is now sports editor at the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.
Prolific author Lew Freedman had two books come out this summer — “Phillies 1980!: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Philadelphia’s First World Series Championship (Sports Publishing)” and “Cy Young: The Baseball Life and Career (McFarland Books).” He has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past 30 years. Of that number, about 40 are on baseball. He lives in Columbus, Ind., and is sports editor at the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune.

Teachers Scott, Curtis make history come alive for students through baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Educators who value history and baseball have combined the two and stirred excitement about both subjects in their students.

Matt Scott is teaching a baseball history course this spring at Clinton Prairie Junior/Senior High School in Frankfort, Ind. He got the inspiration for the class a few years ago while attending a social studies technology conference in Lafayette. There he learned Shawn Curtis was teaching baseball history at North White Midde/High School in Monon, Ind.

Curtis has led a similar course at Connersville (Ind.) High School and now incorporates the diamond game into his social studies classes at Carmel (Ind.) High School.

“We go over time period and see how baseball is interwoven,” says Scott. “Some students may have a general knowledge, but don’t know history.

“We see what baseball has brought to the history of the United States.”

Using the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series — now streaming free online by PBS during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has schools doing eLearning rather than in-person classes — Scott leads a semester-long project-based elective course.

Right now, his students are on “Inning 4 — A National Heirloom (1920-1930).”

Using MySimpleShow, pupils will create short videos about one of the World Series during the period when the “U.S. was coming out of World War I and getting back on its feet.”

Many have asked for 1927 with “Murderer’s Row” lineup that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and hot dogs started to be a staple at the ballpark.

“It will be interesting to see how different kids perceive (the Series),” says Scott. “Kids know Babe Ruth, but don’t know Christy Mathewson or Honus Wagner.

“It brings me joy to put a name with a face and how that person is important.”

Some of Scott’s students have used Book Creator to craft a flip book that comes from their research. Other tools include Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Publisher. Students have produced newscasts, podcasts and more.

Skype video conferencing allows for guest speakers. The Athletic senior writer C. Trent Rosecrans told about his baseball experiences, including those in Japan.

“It’s a big party over there,” says Scott of the atmosphere at a baseball game in the Land of the Rising Sun. “The way it is during the playoffs here is an average game in Japan.”

Attendees of Scott’s baseball history class have studied the contributions of people of color from Native Americans to Cubans to Latinos to the Negro Leagues.

Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston was one of the stars of the Negro Leagues, which celebrates its 100th year in 2020. Rube Foster helped establish the Negro National League in 1920 in Kansas City and that city is now the sight of the Negro League Baseball Museum.

The study goes from the Civil War to the civil rights movement.

“Some people don’t understand how far back it goes,” says Scott.

Zoom has been the way Scott — and so many other teachers including Curtis — have simultaneously communicated with students.

In Scott’s class, students have learned about common misconception that Civil War hero Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball.

Alexander Cartwright, who came up with the scorecard and help formalize a set of rules, is considered something of a modern-day inventor.

“But there’s no one person who should get the ‘Father of Baseball’ label,” says Scott.

A few years ago, Scott and his class took a field trip to see the Indianapolis Indians where they gained more knowledge about the heritage of that franchise plus baseball in Indiana’s capitol.

Scott is also head baseball coach at Clinton Prairie. With in-person classes ending because of COVID-19, the Indiana High School Athletic Association also put an end to spring sports.

“I’m bummed,” says Scott. “Not being able to play this year kind of breaks my heart.”

With three seniors and nine juniors back from a 2019 team that went 2019, the Gophers were looking to “do some damage” in 2020.

Curtis grew up in Wyoming, but rooted for the New York Yankees since his grandfather — Edwin Curtis — had been offered a chance to play in their system as well as that of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 1930’s. When the expansion Colorado Rockies came along, Robert Curtis — Shawn’s father — purchased season tickets.

“I’m a huge baseball fan,” says Curtis. “(Baseball) is really the history of America.

“Baseball is the constant theme of things. I will find ways to tie baseball in.”

Curtis, who also used the Ken Burns documentary to frame some of his teaching, says that as cities grew, people needed recreation and baseball parks offered an escape.

“We see how baseball plays into World War II,” says Curtis. “We see how baseball plays into the Spanish Flu (1918 Pandemic).”

Over the years, Curtis has taken students to Anderson, Ind., to meet Carl Erskine, a Brooklyn Dodgers teammate of Jackie Robinson and a baseball ambassador.

Skype or in-person class guests have included civil rights leader John Lewis, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy and Harrison High School graduate and former minor leaguer Josh Loggins and many more.

“(Speakers) really bring history alive,” says Curtis. “Hearing from the people who made news in more impactful than a book.”

As a way of making history come alive for his students, Curtis launched The 1988 Project.

While teaching about that year, he contacted former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who was more than willing to talk electronically with his class.

“We planned for 40 minutes and he went on for probably two hours,” says Curtis. “The kids had a blast.”

The teacher’s aim was for his students to become historians and use 1988 as the focal point.

“We would take a year in the life of America and just pull it apart,” says Curtis. “It was transitional year between the old world and the new world.

“There were so many human interest. Tom Hanks made ‘Big.’ ‘Batman’ was filmed that year. There were magazine covers talking about the Internet coming.”

Students would critique movies and got to chat with online guests like pop star Debbie Gibson, actor Lou Diamond Phillips, The Cosby Show kid Malcom-Jamal Warner, Saturday Night Live cast member Joe Piscopo and “Miracle on Ice” hockey hero Mike Eruzione.

Of course, 1988 is also known for Kirk Gibson hobbling to the plate at Dodger Stadium and homering off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the World Series.

Independent of his teaching, Curtis has been working with the Negro League Baseball Museum — where Bob Kendrick is the president — and highlighting the history of black baseball in Indianapolis.

The best ballplayer of all-time?

“It’s definitely (Negro Leaguer) Josh Gibson,” says Curtis, who notes that old Bush Stadium in Indianapolis was site of a Negro League World Series game featuring Baseball Hall of Famer Gibson and the Homestead Grays in 1943.

Joe Posnanski, who wrote “The Soul of Baseball: A Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America,” is another former guest in a Curtis-taught class. Former Negro Leaguer player and Kansas City Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil was a central figure on the Ken Burns “Baseball” series.

This summer, the Curtis family is planning a visit to Fenway Park in Boston.

The Curtis family has also spent vacations going to historic baseball sites, including League Park in Cleveland, the former site of the Polo Grounds in New York and the boyhood home of Mickey Mantle in Oklahoma (Mantle is the favorite player of Robert Curtis) and many graves.

Curtis has produced short videos through 1945 for the World Series, Negro League World Series and All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1903 World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1945 World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the 1943 Negro League World Series.

A Shawn Curtis video on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

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Carl Erskine came to visit the baseball history class taught by Shawn Curtis when Curtis was at North White High School in Monon, Ind.

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Author Joe Posnanski talks via Skype to a class taught by history teacher Shawn Curtis. Posnanski has written on many topics, including baseball.

CURTISGIBSONHistory teacher Shawn Curtis poses with the statue of his favorite player, Josh Gibson, at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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The Curtis family enjoys spending time at the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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Among historical baseball sites visited by the Curtis family is League Park in Cleveland, Ohio.

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History teacher Shawn Curtis was able to get on the field at historic League Park in Cleveland, Ohio, during a family trip.

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Buck O’Neil is buried in Kansas City, Mo. The former Negro League player and manager’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Billy Martin is buried in Hawthorne, N.Y. The big league player and manager’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Babe Ruth is buried in Hawthorne, N.Y. The baseball legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Lou Gehrig is buried in Valhalla, N.Y. The baseball legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

MELOTTGRAVE

Mel Ott is buried in New Orleans. The Hall of Famer’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Mickey Mantle is buried in Dallas, Texas. The Hall of Famer’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

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Josh Gibson is buried in Pittsburgh, Pa. The Negro League legend’s grave is one of several baseball sites visited by Shawn Curtis and family.

TRENTROSECRANSCLINTONPRAIRIESKYPE

The Clinton Prairie High School baseball history class of Matt Scott visits via Skype with baseball writer C. Trent Rosecrans. Scott is also head baseball coach at the school.

 

Vernon brings ‘culture change’ to Benton Central Bison baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball players are buying what Jon Vernon’s selling at Benton Central Junior-Senior High School in Oxford, Ind.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have some good athletes and good players,” says Vernon, who is heading into his fourth season as BC head coach in 2019. “They’ve bought into my system.”

The Bison have improved its record in each of Vernon’s first three seasons in charge, going 10-17 in 2016, 17-9 in 2017 and 19-6 in 2018.

Benton Central lost 9-2 to Western in the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A West Lafayette Sectional championship game.

BC bowed out of the state tournament series with a  3-2 loss to Maconaquah on a seventh-inning wild pitch in the first round of the 2018 3A Peru Sectional.

“We changed the culture a little bit,” says Vernon, whose current seniors have been varsity since freshmen year. That group includes three who have signed for college baseball —

Center fielder Payton Hall (University of Southern Indiana), right-handed pitcher/third baseman Alex Stout (Bethel College) and first baseman/left-hander Matt Taylor (Anderson University).

Right-hander Taylor Varnado, BC’s probable No. 1 starting pitcher in 2019 and a third baseman, is expected to sign soon. Junior shortstop Alex Thurston is verbally committed to Valparaiso University.

Vernon says he expects to have about 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring. The JV went 11-6 in 2018.

Benton Central (enrollment of about 580) belongs to the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Twin Lakes and Rensselaer Central in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

Teams play a home-and-home within their division then a crossover game with the corresponding regular-season placer in the other division.

BC is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.

The Bison roam on-campus at Darrell Snodgrass Field, a facility that recently received new fencing and upgraded dugouts and sound system. The worked on the diamond in the fall, doing things like edging.

A unique feature is the sounds of wind turbines. Benton County is home to wind farms.

With all that breeze, Vernon says it is best to be conservative field conditioner in the like in the autumn.

“You put too much stuff down in the fall, it won’t be there in the spring,” says Vernon.

Vernon’s 2019 assistants include Denny Musser and pitching coach Brad Goffinet with the varsity and Tyler Marsh with the junior varsity. Musser, the uncle of former Benton Central and professional left-hander Neal Musser, was a JV coach at BC on the staff of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary DeHaven.

Neal Musser pitched 18 games for the 2007 and 2008 Kansas City Royals.

The southpaw was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

Goffinet pitched at Indianapolis Marshall High School and Butler University in the 1970’s. Marsh is a former North Newton High School assistant.

Right-hander Jayson Best graduated from Benton Central in 1985 and played at Milligan College in Elizabethtown, Tenn., before signing with the Minnesota Twins in 1989. He reached the Double-A level in 1992 and 1993 and hurled for the independent Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards in 1996 and 1997. He was pitching at Goshen College 2000-04 (one season for Todd Bacon and four for Brent Hoober) and Maple Leafs head coach in 2005.

Benton Central baseball is largely fed by travel baseball organizations, including the Lafayette Lightning and Indiana Nitro. In the past, teams have played Pony League and Babe Ruth.

Vernon is a 1989 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School. He played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr.

Turner’s Berries lost 6-2 to Evansville Memorial in the 1989 IHSAA state championship game. Vernon was his left fielder and lead-off hitter. It was the first of Logan’s three straight Final Four appearances. The Berries 7-3 in the state semifinals to eventual champion LaPorte in 1990 and beat Marion for the state title in 1991.

What was it like to play for Turner Sr.?

“It was a great experience,” says Vernon. “He knows more about baseball is his little pinky than I do in my whole body.”

Turner Sr., who was assisted for many years by Larry “Butch” Jones and Rich Wild, established a winning culture and a program.

“You didn’t want to let coach down,” says Vernon. “He trusted his players. A lot of people revere him.”

As a coach, Vernon learned from Turner Sr. that “you always have to play the best players” and it doesn’t matter what they’re family name is what grade they’re in.

“Sometimes that makes people happy and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Vernon. “If you want to win, that’s what you have to do. Sometimes you have to make those tough decisions.”

After a season of club baseball at the University of Kentucky, Vernon went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Huntington University and master’s degree from Ball State University. He was head baseball coach at Delphi (Ind.) High School from 1994-2000 and assisted Jim Turner Jr. at Logansport for one season in the mid-2000’s and ran Turner’s summer programs.

He picked up pointers on organization and running practice from Turner Jr. Vernon was also head volleyball coach for the Berries.

After a brief stint in Florida, he came back to Indiana. He teaches business and computer classes at Benton Central has been BC’s head volleyball coach for three seasons.

Jon and Diann Vernon have been married for 25 years. They have four children — Matthew, Luke, Kailey and Karlee. Matthew works in finance for Amazon and lives in South Carolina. Luke is a dental student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Kailey is in physician assistant school at Butler University. Karlee is 20 and works in Zionsville, Ind.

Staggered BC

ALEXTHURSTONBENTONCENTRALAlex Thurston (right) bats for Benton Central High School. He is a junior in 2019 and a verbal commit to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.

MATTTAYLORBENTONCENTRALMatt Taylor (left) catches a ball at first base for Benton Central High School. He has moved on to the baseball team at Anderson University.

PAYTONHALLTAYLORVARNADOALEXTHURSTONMATTTAYLORALEXSTOUTHOOSIERNORTHBenton Central players Payton Hall, Taylor Varnado, Alex Thurston, Matt Taylor and Alex Stout represent Hoosier North in the 2017 Colt Harry Bradway Classic in Lafayette, Ind.

VERNONFAMILY

The Vernon family in Key West, Fla., with spouses and children (from left): Matthew, Emily, Mary Katherine, Mason, Kailey, Karlee, Diann, Aubriel, Jon and Luke.

ALEXSTOUTBENTONCENTRAL

Another Benton Central High School baseball signs to play in college (from left): First row — Father David Stout, Benton Central Alex Stout and mother Stephanie Stout. Back row — Bethel College assistant Kiel Boynton, Bethel College head coach Seth Zartman and Benton Central head coach Jon Vernon. (Benton Central Photo)